Progress in Prosecuting Grease Theft

By Charles W. Gittins, Valley Proteins, Inc.

Combating used cooking oil theft continues to be a priority for the National Renderers Association (NRA) and its members. Highlighting the importance of the issue to its membership, in November 2012 NRA retained the Freeh Group, led by former federal judge and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Louis Freeh. The goal was to meet with senior Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI officials in Washington, DC, to educate them on the magnitude of the grease theft problem in the rendering industry and the collateral criminal activity that accompanies the individual thefts, including interstate transport of stolen grease, money laundering, and tax evasion. An example of evidence collected by a local police officer showing the interstate nature of the enterprise from the local Washington, DC, area served to illustrate the Freeh Group’s presentation. The meetings with senior DOJ and FBI officials occurred in August.

Independent of the NRA-Freeh Group efforts, individual renderers have employed investigators, attorneys, and employees to combat theft of used cooking oil through education of local law enforcement officials and by conducting independent investigations. These efforts are beginning to show results as law enforcement authorities have begun to be persuaded that the grease theft problem entails more than individual misdemeanor thefts.

The cooperation of local mid-Atlantic NRA members with law enforcement authorities has led to several high-profile federal prosecutions. In Philadelphia, PA, Bernard Corbin has been indicted on three-counts for conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen property, and aiding and abetting. Corbin’s company, Simply Green, was little more than a “front” for a theft operation, stealing used cooking oil from legitimate renderers’ used cooking oil collection equipment in the Philadelphia area. The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has also provided notice of intent to forfeit property, including bank accounts and other tangible property, in the amount of $382,584.

In Baltimore, MD, the dominoes have fallen in a long-running federal investigation involving the Internal Revenue Service and Baltimore County Police Department. Ahmad Qaabid Abdul-Rahim pleaded guilty to transporting stolen property as part of a scheme to steal used cooking oil. He admitted in a plea agreement to receiving nearly $99,000 for selling more than 94,000 gallons of stolen used cooking oil during a nine-month period in 2012. Abdul-Rahim faces up to 10 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 3, 2013.

In Prince George’s County in Maryland, two thieves pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft charges stemming from theft from Valley Proteins’ used cooking oil containers and received suspended jail terms, less time already served as a result of their arrest.

Out West, Reno Police in Nevada began an investigation in early September into the thefts of thousands of gallons of used cooking oil that had been occurring over several months. The oil was being stolen from recycling containers located behind restaurants and other businesses with cooking facilities throughout Reno and Sparks. These containers were locked and clearly identified as being owned by the local rendering company.

After a detailed investigation, detectives were able to identify and arrest three suspects who were responsible for stealing large quantities of oil, storing it at an improper local holding facility, and then selling the oil to a biodiesel company and shipping over state lines. On September 18, 2013, Reno Police detectives arrested Frank Camacho-Bobadilla, 28, Alberto Camacho, 25, and Oscar Negrete, 44. Each were charged with one count of organized theft ring and conspiracy to commit theft, and two counts of theft.

Progress is slow and incremental. However, the efforts of NRA and its members to educate law enforcement on the magnitude of the grease theft problem to the rendering industry, and members’ cooperation with law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, are showing tangible results.

October 2013 RENDER | back